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Global Migration Solutions e News October

Australia-Better Education?

Sourced from by David Loader and Simon Whatmore

Why it’s time for a class revolt AS THE first comprehensive evaluation of Australian education in 40 years, the Gonski review was destined to ignite spirited debate. Unfortunately we are having the wrong debate — or at least one that does not go far enough. With its narrow scope of needs-based funding, the review was restrained from asking deeper, probing questions about the nature of learning and the current practice of schooling. Beyond limited canvassing of these themes, the review assumes that our current learning model will continue, unchanged, into the future. Is it really likely that while every other social institution is changing at a relentless pace, the school as we know it will remain the same as it has for the past 100 years? Responding to the Gonski review, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: "I want Australian schools to be back in the top five schooling systems in the world as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)." The political reaction to Gonski shows not only that our leaders need a remedial reading course, but also that educational outcomes of Australian students are being held hostage to political considerations. 1

education in Australia

GMS e News for Education in Australia

Australia is a young and vibrant country – and we engage with the world with positivity, determination and a keen sense of what’s possible. It’s a resolute spirit that goes right through to our approach to teaching and learning – to inspire confidence, create real-world skills, and encourage independent thinking, teamwork and leadership. Having a top five PISA goal as the centre of the nation's e d u c a t i o n a l ambition is clearly at odds with the Gonski panel's view that: "An excessive focus on what is testable, measurable and publicly reportable carries the risk of an imbalance in the school curriculum."

minister, she has imposed a national curriculum, national testing, national teacher registration and certification, national teacher training standards and a national plan for school improvement. The rhetoric that schools need to innovate and aspire to next best practice is a common refrain. Innovation is difficult and made more perilous for teachers and schools to pursue when constrained by regulatory forces aimed at standardisation and homogenisation. Measurement is important when viewed as feedback and with context. But when complex issues are reduced to a simple numerical ranking, the value of any measurement is lost.

At the core of Ms Gillard's $5.6 billion "education crusade" is the assumption that spending more money, doing what we have always done, only somehow "better", will deliver better results. This widely held public perception, given credence by a media narrative that frames funding debates as a zero-sum game of winners and losers, obscures more significant factors influencing student performance.

Framing PISA as an academic race ignores that each country aims to teach a curriculum emphasising its unique industrial and developmental needs. Professionals across all disciplines recognise that "what gets measured gets managed". But students do not attend school with the motivation of performing for PISA. Will pursuing PISA rankings create perverse incentives for our teachers to teach to a technocratic objective over a student need? What will be sacrificed in this desperate effort to raise scores?

The simple equation of resources-in equals resultsout, is not supported by the facts. The evidence is in: countries such as Australia and Britain that have dramatically increased education funding have done so with little appreciable gain in this type of measurable result. Yet our Prime Minister advocates prescription and centralisation, driven by standardised tests and measurements. As education minister and prime 2

The future: what we need? * Personal learning pathways for each student * An academic ‘‘coach’’, not allocated to classes * Personal technology * Measurement for growth, not comparison * Creation (of articles, products) as a student goal, not high marks * Emphasis upon student behavior, not just cognitive development * A local and global scope * Student opportunities to live/study in culturally unfamiliar settings * Learning overseen by family and community, not government * Support of continuous and lifelong learning * Recognition of personal and community achievements * Government funding for individuals, not institutions, and for new learning initiatives

There is growing recognition that, as we evolve from our industrial past to a knowledge-based economy, our society will increasingly need creative and socially enterprising people to cope with change and to generate ideas and products. Chasing high PISA scores will not develop or deliver creative and enterprising students. Research has shown there is an inverse relationship between PISA scores and entrepreneurship. High PISA scores could be seen as a measure of a failing schooling system, emphasising rote learning over creative thinking. Australia needs to develop new measures of educational success. We need to be looking for new, more effective and engaging ways to educate our young people, not serving up more of the same. We cannot afford to go back to the future. Where in Ms Gillard's "crusade" is the concern for the broader purpose and goals of education? Education should strive to develop pupils as successful learners, confident and creative individuals, active and informed citizens. As no two students react identically to the same stimulus, attributing student performance to teacher quality alone does not stand up to the facts. It ignores the effects of the family, community and culture. In fact, a 2010 University of Pittsburgh study concluded 57 per cent of student achievement stems from nonschool factors. While individual teachers control the classroom environment for a period each day, there are many variables they cannot control both inside and outside the classroom. It is not just the testing that needs to be questioned; so too must the entire current practice of schooling. The tools, subjects, textbooks and examinations still used by schools are at best crude efforts to align general knowledge to human experience in a rapidly developing and 3

Education in Australia complex society. Too many of our young people see the "knowledge" of schools as irrelevant to them and, consequently, become disengaged with schooling.

billion to research into the development of relevant, engaging and cost-effective new ways of schooling. More than incremental changes in schooling will be needed to save our current model from redundancy. To effectively prepare students to be successful learners, confident, creative individuals and active and informed citizens, first we must recognise that the one-size-fits-all "comprehensive school" approach no longer effectively serves all students.

Student outcomes have declined over the life of the current National Education Agreement, despite exponential funding growth. Could this decline in Australia's academic performance be because our current teaching model is failing to evolve to meet the needs of today's students?

The centre of our nation's educational ambition should be to replace schools with new, more flexible ways of learning.

The pace of change in our society continues at breakneck speed. Our young people utilise technology to access knowledge in a fundamentally different manner than students of previous generations. Yet in schools we are still using an Encyclo-paedia Britannica model in a Wikipedia world. That the Gonski review was not empowered to consider more fully the potential future impact of technology on schooling is an unfortunate failure of vision. Emerging digital technologies offer amazing opportunities for students and new providers, with the potential to support a new paradigm in education a s a t o o l o f c r e a t i o n , c o l l a b o ra t i o n a n d communication. As the saying goes: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Most industries dedicate significant resources to imaging their future environment and planning for this. The forces of "creative destruction" that compel industries to evolve to meet client needs are largely absent in the education sector. Yet the status quo never holds. From whale oil to the pony express and the cavalry horse, history is littered with organisations, methods and ideologies made obsolete once a new model meeting the same essential need more conveniently was developed. We need to dedicate some of the promised $5.6

We need to reimagine and recreate our educational system by developing a plethora of "delivery models" reflecting the diversity of our student population. Government needs to support innovation with funding, reward initiative and recognise success that is not narrowly defined by testing. Learning is natural but schools are not. While we cannot predict the future, we help shape it in everything we do or don't do. Failing to read the present, making only a school response to growing our young people and not developing new options is unacceptable. We need to explore new options. For reasons of political expedience and fear of change, our governments prefer band-aiding existing school processes. Consequently, our current schooling model is creaking under the weight of diminishing returns. We cannot afford to wait another 40 years to harness the potential positive impact of technology and social change in the classroom. Australia needs policymakers and proactive parents to challenge the timidity of our political elite to ensure significant funding is given to support the change a n d i n n o va t i o n process. Let us start the conversation now.

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Australia - Better Education?  

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